‘Can I bring my toddler to a hens weekend?’

Welcome to The Dilemma. This week psychologist Jacqui Mannings advises whether a toddler should be allowed to come to a hens weekend.

Question: I’m the maid of honour at my best friend’s wedding and I’m organising her hens weekend. We have a tight group of five bridesmaids and the bride says she wants a chill weekend in the wine region in a big house with a hot tub. One of the bridesmaids has messaged me asking if she can bring her toddler as her husband has a footy game that weekend and she doesn’t want to leave her little boy with anyone else. Some of the other bridesmaids also have kids and keep talking about how amazing it will be to have a child-free weekend. I’m worried the toddler will be noisy and ruin the whole weekend by making it all about him (as kids tend to do). We’ll be drinking and telling silly stories – most of which will not be kid-friendly. I don’t think she’ll come if she can’t bring her toddler but it’s inappropriate for him to be there. Is it OK for me to tell my friend that she can’t bring a toddler to a hen party even though she’s having childcare issues?

Answer: This is a tricky one and throws up several questions for me about the father’s responsibility here – is the football game the toddler’s dad has one he has to play professionally? Or a game he wants to go and watch? Is the game out of town or in the same place he lives, and he just wants a few hours off to go out with his mates? It seems to me that an open-hearted chat with your friend is in order to find out more information about this, because unless it’s his profession and a game he absolutely cannot get out of (and in this instance I would not include local club football to be a substantial enough reason), I’d be suggesting that the toddler be his responsibility for the weekend.

Football games happen every week, whereas someone gets married once (hopefully) in their lives, and the hens weekend is a part of that celebration that also only happens once. This Hens Weekend has been set up as a beautiful occasion for five close friends to be together for an extended period of time, to drink champagne, reminisce, tell naughty stories and generally switch off. It also includes time in a hot tub, which is supposed to be relaxing, not a cause for worry, which it would be with a toddler around for whom a hot tub represents a drowning risk.

Toddlers have a huge range of needs which is OK, that’s their job and stage of development. He will need naps, to be watched constantly so he doesn’t injure himself or go off wandering on the property, and his mum will end up not being able to be fully present in her time with you all. Leaving spontaneously for an outing during the weekend is not possible with a toddler, with bags that need to be packed with snacks, nappies, and all sorts, so if you feel like heading to a winery on the spur of the moment, this won’t be possible. And yes, toddlers are often noisy and need that focus to be on them, and being in a different environment can often make toddlers anxious and more needy that usual. This is normal and to be expected.

The impact on everyone needs to be considered, including the toddler. The other mums in the group could also find themselves frustrated – although they’d also understand at some level – because they are looking forward to a couple of days where they don’t have to be ‘mum’ and can switch off and celebrate their friend getting married.

It is more than OK to talk to your friend about not bringing her toddler, however it should come from a place of support. Brainstorm with her the possible solutions for childcare for her toddler, with the focus and emphasis being on getting the father to step up this time. Perhaps he has relatives who can help him out, which could enable him to get tot the game but then take over the parenting his child, for which he has equal responsibility to her. That is, this should not be considered ‘babysitting’ or ‘helping out’ but being a parent.

If there’s absolutely no way he can do it, then I think you need to take the conversation to the bride and ask her what she’d prefer, and possibly the wider group, rather than feeling the pressure of assuming what everyone else will want and making the decision alone. You are a group of five close friends who presumably love and support each other through life, and this is one of life’s realities – we don’t have villages big enough to help with the youngest members of our tribes anymore and that’s very difficult on parents. They may surprise you and say it’s fine for him to come along.

Yes, it would bring a different vibe, but different is not necessarily a bad thing.

Whatever ends up happening, I hope you celebrate wildly and make many happy memories together.

Jacqui Manning is The Friendly Psychologist.

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